Are Sports Scores in the Public Domain?

Author:Mr George D Gabel Jr
Profession:Holland & Knight LLP
 
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Morris Communications Corp. v. PGA Tour, Inc., 117

F.Supp. 2d 1322 (M.D. Fla. 2000), is the first reported decision to address

how the publication of news via the Internet may be shaped by antitrust and

intellectual property law. In denying a Motion for Preliminary

Injunction, the Court in Morris noted that the development of a complete

factual record and ìan examination of both bodies of law and their proper

application in a rapidly changing worldî will be necessary to resolve the

underlying controversy between the parties.

Morris Communications Corporation is in the

business of publishing news, in both the traditional print format and

electronically via the Internet. As part of its news coverage, in 1996

Morris began publishing information about golf tournaments on its electronic

newspapers. The most popular feature of its electronic coverage of these

golf tournaments was its publication of real-time golf scores.

As the term suggests, real-time golf scores are

the scores of individual golfers published contemporaneously with, or as near

as possible to, the actual pace of competition at a golf tournament.

These scores are collected at each of the 18 holes on the golf course,

typically by volunteers organized by the tournament's promoter. The

scores are then transmitted, through wireless or other communication devices,

to several locations including the media center located on the tournament

premises. Upon being published in the media center, the golf scores can

then be ìre-keyedî by media organizations into their own computers for

further dissemination, including publication via the Internet. Although

some scores are also published on television, radio, and leaderboards on the

premises, the media center is the only location where the ìofficialî

scores for all the competing golfers are continuously updated and available.

This is particularly true during the first two days of most golf tournaments

when there is normally no television or radio coverage.

Cable News Network/Sports Illustrated (CNN/SI)

was impressed with Morris' electronic coverage of golf tournaments and

contracted with Morris to provide (i.e., syndicate) real-time golf scores.

In 1999, this coverage included all of the professional golf tournaments

promoted by the PGA Tour, Inc. Morris' attempts to cover the PGA Tour

in real-time, however, ran headlong into media restrictions being imposed by

the PGA Tour.

The PGA Tour, like other promoters of sports

events, regulates the media coverage of its golf tournaments. These

regulations, which typically concern television, photography and print media,

are contained in press credentials which are issued by the PGA Tour for each

tournament. By obtaining a press credential, a news organization is

permitted access to the tournament premises, including access to the media

center, to report on the tournament. The relationship between the media

and the PGA Tour, as the court in Morris noted, is mutually beneficial:

ìthe media are better positioned to satisfy the public's demand for

golf-related information, and [the PGA Tour] enjoys enhanced publicity, which

in turn generates greater demand for its golf...

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